Only in Phoenix

Oct 10, 2011 by Steve Belt in General, iPhone photo

I was just leaving for Echo Coffee yesterday morning, when I noticed three young male deer in my neighbor’s yard.  It’s amazing to me to see deer in the desert.  This isn’t the first time I’ve seen deer in my neighborhood.  Heck, I’ve seen them eating the plants in my front yard.  But when I first drove past them, they were grouped perfectly under a tree in the neighbor’s yard, and it was just picture perfect…except I wasn’t immediately ready for a picture.  I turned around, and one by one, they ran across the driveway, then into the open area by the house.  From there they huddled under a new tree.  In one picture, notice a saguaro cactus, prickly pear cactus, an ocotillo cactus, sage brush, and one of the deer nibbling from the tree.  For me, it was just an amazing sight.

Back up your important data

Sep 22, 2011 by Steve Belt in General

This is a PSA from me, sponsored by me, intended for everyone:

Back up your important data!

Nearly 3 months ago, my primary computer for Echo Coffee started giving me some fits.  The symptom was that it didn’t like to boot up.  Often it would take several attempts before it succeeded in booting up.  As a result, I started to get picky about whether I would install updates or reboot the computer at all.  I figured either the power supply, memory card, or video card was on it’s last leg.

Two months ago, the thing absolutely refuses to boot up.  I bought a new video card, and that didn’t help.  So I took it home, and decided to start swapping parts until I had it working.  A few failed reconfigurations and many wasted hours later, I’m fed up with it, and resign to just read the important shit off the hard drive and build a new computer.

And then reality finally sets in.  The problem all along was a faulty boot hard drive.  “No problem,” I think, “it’s part of a software raid, the other boot drive will have all of my data.”  A few minutes later, “Oh, that’s right, I had disabled the software raid a few months ago, because it was using so damn much memory.  No worries, the server has all of my files backed up on it, right?”   “Ummmm, no sir.  Server backups were never even enabled when you switched from to a year ago.”  Doh!

So, here I sit with nary a backup in sight.  Normally anything important for my business is written to 5 drives.  Two on the raid on the PC.  Two more on the raid on the server.  And 1 more on the server’s nightly external backup drive.  How did I get myself into such a stupid setup?  Ugh!

So the drive in question went over to Data Doctors 3 weeks ago.  It’s had it’s read-write head replaced and has been on some fancy imaging device, working 24/7, to copy the data to a viable hard drive for over a week.  I don’t have much of an ETA for when I’ll get my data back, but I do know it’s going to cost me over a grand.  Yep, more than $1000.  Ouch!

So…learn from my mistake.  Figure out a viable backup solution for anything you hold dear, and put it to use.  If it’s a hassle, fix the hassle.  If it stops working, make it work immediately.  Don’t delay.

Hoping to Speak at Ignite Phoenix #11

Sep 19, 2011 by Steve Belt in Mountain Bike

I did it.  For real this time.  I submitted to be a speaker for the next Ignite Phoenix.

I submitted once before, but the name of the topic was rather lame: “Thank You”, and to be honest, I’m glad I wasn’t selected for it.  That topic wasn’t actually a true, deep-seeded passion of mine.  Instead, intermixed with 5 minutes of various ways, why’s, and how’s we should all be looking to say thank you in our every day lives, I was planning to sneak in the biggest, loudest, most sincere Thank You to the Ignite Phoenix crew for exposing me to my newest passion (fyi…it might be coffee related).  A passion that has literally changed the way I live.  Hallmark would have loved it.  But I don’t work for Hallmark, and to call the topic of saying “thank you” a passion would be stretch.

This time, however, I submitted to talk about what anyone that knows me even a little bit will likely understand and agree is indeed a true passion:  mountain bike riding.  Sure, I road ride as well, but it’s the mountain bike I can’t imagine living without.

The submission deadline for sharing your passion at Ignite Phoenix #11 is just a few days away.  If you’ve ever had the notion to submit and thus share, now’s the time to do it.  Hopefully, I get selected.  I wish I could say I have a leg up on the competition to speak, but the judges that now pick speakers are past speakers themselves, not the organizing crew, so there’s no gaurantee.  I do know they’ve had cycling related speakers before, so there’s a chance the topic may appear to be “old, tired, spents, etc.”.  I hope not.  But if I’m not picked, I’m not picked.  But I’d like to be.

Poke confirmation

Aug 15, 2011 by Steve Belt in General

Why is it that Facebook needs you to confirm that you are about to poke someone?  There’s no confirmation for liking something.  There’s no confirmation for updating someone’s wall.  There’s no confirmation for adding a photo to your library.  But for some reason, Facebook thinks that you may have accidentally chosen to poke someone, and that this life altering event requires a confirmation.

Really Facebook?  Really?  Enough with the annoying confirmation pop-up!

New Gadget Idea

Aug 13, 2011 by Steve Belt in General

Ok, I’m not much of an inventor, but I had an idea for a gadget today while roaming the aisles at the local Fry’s Electronics.  What I was looking for, and didn’t find, was a combination iPod dock, memory card reader, and USB hub.  You can get a memory card reader and USB hub as a single device, but not with iPod dock as well.  Since iPod/iPad/iPhone are now so prevalent, it seems only logical to put all of these together.  And ideally, in a USB 3.0 spec.

Anyway, I’m not going any further with this idea than what you see here, but if anyone has the means to take this idea to fruition, let me know…all I’ll ask for is a free sample.  FYI, the images above are from some old defunct devices that kinda/sorta do what I want.  But none of these devices has been updated to current technology, so they won’t work with iPhone 4, modern memory cards, or USB 3.0.  Yeah…so not much use these days.

Now Pondering

Aug 09, 2011 by Steve Belt in Blogging

Beer along Mission Bay, San Diego

Very few people reading this will NOT know Jay Thompson, but on the off chance you don’t and don’t read The Phoenix Real Estate Guy, then you probably don’t know that Jay, after 6 years blogging on TPREG, recently created his own personal blog, Now Pondering.

My Side Door is exactly that for me.  It’s my personal blog.  The place I can share things personal to me, about me, things that I’m thinking about for the future, etc.  And I’ve had this blog since August 2007, so that’s 4 years now.  Dang, has it really been that long?  Anyway, it’s occurred to me more and more recently, that I’m not writing much (well, really not writing at all), and that it’s about time I started making the time to write here.  It’s good for the soul.

For content, I’ve always wanted this blog to have a focus on photos, which is why I chose the theme I chose.  Sunday morning, while listening to NPR on my way into Echo, there was a story about old snapshots taken in the 50’s and how families used to take down the  box from the closet and look at the old snapshots, reminisce, and then possibly note who/when/where.  This too is another thing I need to get back to.  The last 2 years, I’ve taken way too many photos that I never share.  They are just sitting in a memory card somewhere.  Will I remember who/what/when/where that photo came from?  Not if I don’t start making those notes now.

And so here it is.  I’m throwing down my own gauntlet.  Blogging and I shall become friends once again.  Talk with you again soon.

Socializing Online for this Small Biz Owner

Apr 28, 2011 by Steve Belt in General

A little over a year ago I opened Echo Coffee.  Doing so, as you can imagine, changed my life substantially.  For the first 6 straight weeks I was there from open to close every day.  I would arrive at 6:45am and leave at 10:30pm (if we got out quickly).  That gave me 8 hours to drive home ( 30 mins each way), do laundry, sleep, shower, and get back to Echo.  As you can imagine, it was fatiguing.  By the time I had a day off, “multi-tasking” was an impossibility.  I would tell the staff I can do one task ok.  If I’m trying to do 2 things…they are both going to suck.  And nothing I do is going to be great.  They really picked up the slack for me big time in those first few weeks.

And we got through it.

There were hiccups, of course.  But we managed not to make too many mistakes, particularly the kind that could have doomed a brand new small business.

Lately, I’ve had a little time to look back on the past year and think about some of the ways I’ve changed.  One of the most obvious, for me, is my lack of involvement in the social media world.  Back in the day, I was somewhat “internet famous”.  I recall a ranking site that listed my real estate blog among the top 50 in the nation.  I don’t know how accurate it was, but at the same time, to be on the list at any slot meant you were getting noticed.

So why have I essentially fallen off the grid?  I thought about that a bit and here’s what I came up with:  On an almost daily basis, I now get to socialize with literally 100’s of people every day.  And I get to do so, face to face.  Maybe it’s just 30 seconds, or maybe it’s longer.  But it’s personal.  It’s look someone in the eyes, shake their hand, and share a moment or three.  Back when I was a Realtor, on a good day, I spoke to a handful of people, and very few of them were face to face.  More often it was over the phone, and it was business.  However, I wanted to talk to 100’s.  So I blogged.  And I tweeted.  And I got my socialization fix online, while sitting in an office by myself.

So the difference is, these days if I want to chat it up with someone, I can walk out into Echo’s dining room, and politely ask how things are going?  Or what are you are working on?  (Because invariably, most are working on something, and not just there to enjoy coffee, which is a shame).  And because “I’m the owner” random strangers (or at least, they were at one time) will gladly share a nugget of what’s going on in their lives.  Which quite honestly, I enjoy.  I’ve always liked living vicariously through other people’s lives.  That’s not to say my life sucks or is boring.  But I know I’ll never get to do _everything_.  And there are many things I’ll never want to do.  But nearly everything that anyone else is doing interests me to some extent.

I’m interested in learning a tiny bit about the geology student studying dust devils on Mars; the internet SEO guy that was a former San Francisco Giants baseball player; the Fox 10 news anchor; the CBS 5 weather man; the yoga instructor; the Realtor; the just married; the just divorced; the police officer; the visitor from Chicago, Washington DC, and Seattle; the young; the old; and everything in between.  Everyone has a bit of a story to tell, and I’m always up for it.

So the coffee shop suits me well.  It suits me very, very well.  But it does mean that my internal drive to socialize online has been placated.  And so it is, that I reflect on how I used to think small business owners failed so hard at social media, because “they don’t get it”.  Now I think…maybe they do get it…they just don’t need it.  Well, maybe that’s not the case for everyone.  But it feels that way for me.

So, the next time you wonder what happened to Steve Belt, I thought I’d share that I’m alive and well and making great coffee for great people, everyday.  I’ll probably never completely stop being social online, but my current status quo is likely to continue for a fair bit longer as well.  There are still lots and lots and lots of people I have yet to meet that come into Echo all the time.

Social Media Day 2010

Jul 02, 2010 by Steve Belt in Echo Coffee

Mashable recently declared June 30th, Social Media Day, and organized 340+ social media day meetups around the world.  I attended the one for Phoenix in Tempe at Madcap Theatres. 

Running late as I often am, I arrived at 6pm for the 5pm start, only to realize the first hour was a social hour, and I didn’t actually miss anything.  That was good and bad.  The bad part being, I attend things like this for the social aspect, so I was missing the “best” part of the event for me.

The meat of the meetup, however, was that attendees would be encouraged to give their own story about how social media had had an impact on their life or business.  Attendees were encouraged to run up on stage, grab the mic, and in a minute or so rattled off a story.  I arrived just as things were about to get underway with the formal portion, shorly before 6pm.  It was 110 outside, so I was looking forward to a cool evening, both literally and figuratively.  Sadly, I was disappointed on both fronts. 

First, literally, it was at least 90 degrees in the theatre.  The AC apparently doesn’t work at Madcap.  That’s NOT good for a theatre.  I hope they are able to get that fixed.

Secondly, figuratively, the people that shared stories, for the most part, shared quite lame stories.  Often, the social media relevance was completely lost.  Or if it wasn’t lost, it was tangential at best.  I suppose Ignite Phoenix, Social Media Club, and all of the various Bar Camps have spoiled me into thinking that the blossoming social media scene in Phoenix is a little smarter than we saw on Wednesday night.  Perhaps an event like this needs a little more than a week to plan.  That, and the organizers really should have had some “planted” stories, to uplevel the event. 

Sadly, what could have been a coup for social media, fell flat on its face this time. 

At any rate, before attending I was considering sharing a social media story, and so as not to let it go to waste, here is what I think is a super cool example of how social media has affected my life and business.

Yelp for business

This story involves Yelp.  Just before I opened Echo Coffee, I was contacted by a reporter from the Arizona Republic that said she wanted to do a business profile about Echo Coffee.  Naturally, I jumped at the chance, and we were able to set up the interview for the following Tuesday.    That Thursday, our first Thursday in business, the business profile ran in the Scottsdale Republic section of the newspaper, including a teaser on the front page of the section.  Revenue on that day was literally double what we did the previous day.  We almost completely sold out of all of our food/sandwiches in the kitchen over lunch.  It was a banner day.  Clearly “old” media still worked, and since that day, Echo Coffee has blown away all of my revenue expectations.

Here’s where social media comes in, though:  I asked the reporter, how did you hear about Echo Coffee?  Her answer:  Yelp.  That’s right.  If not for Yelp, a new school, social media website, Echo Coffee is never featured in the Republic.  I can easily give that one article credit for at least 50% of all sales my second week in business.  In fact, I still get occassional customers mentioning the article and recognizing me from the pictures. 

By the way, if you think that’s a fluke, the Echo Coffee blog is directly responsible for interviews that led to articles in the Phoenix Business Journal, 944 Magazine, and Fresh Cup Magazine

If you are a business owner, considering how social media can impact your business, you have to stop thinking about it, and just do it.  But do it socially responsibly.  Engage with your customer base.  Show that you care about them, not just their money.  They already know you want their money.  Let them know you care about all of the other things that make life worth living.

The story of Echo Coffee

May 27, 2010 by Steve Belt in Echo Coffee

I doubt there is anyone reading this that isn’t aware of my new Scottsdale Coffee Shop, but you might not be aware of some of the story behind the story that is Echo Coffee.

At the time I was first considering a coffee shop, I was reasonably unhappy with my real estate career.  If you missed it, I wrote about what was making me unhappy with real estate on the Phoenix Area Real Estate Blog last August.  It was in May of 2009, however, that the notion of creating a coffee shop began to seriously take hold.  To help you understand, there were a few things that all seemed to blend together which got me on the path.  The first was a presentation at Ignite Phoenix #1 by Austin Baker in August 2008.  He did 5 minutes and 20 slides about what it takes to operate a successful coffee shop.  I didn’t see his presentation in person, but watched it online via UStream (Austin starts approximately minute 26).  Although I didn’t take any action toward creating a coffee shop at the time, apparently Austin’s presentation at Ignite resonated within me somehow, even though I wouldn’t think about it again for nearly 6 months.

Later, in early 2009, I saw a craigslist ad for a coffee shop near Tatum and Greenway in North Phoenix that was being sold.  The owners were apparently moving to Oregon and were selling everything in the shop for $75,000.  Once again, I didn’t take much action, in fact, I didn’t even drive over and look at the place, but my curiosity was piqued, and I now had a pricepoint in my head.

The tipping point, however, came somewhat inoccuously with a simple tweet on Twitter, on a day shortly before I had decided I was getting out of the real estate business and was contemplating what I might do next.  I think the tweet was something as simple as “I’m thinking about opening a coffee shop.”  Almost immediately one of my twitter friends, whom I didn’t actually know (the hazards of having 1500+ “friends” on Twitter), responded with a “me too” type answer.  We chatted via twitter, which quickly progressed to talking over the phone that night.  This twitter friend turned out to be a husband and wife that had owned several restaurants in the past and were thinking about a new restaurant with a dedicated coffee bar.  Immediately I felt like I had found my new purpose in life.  With their prior experience to help pull me along, the partnership fell together easily, and seemed a bit like destiny talking.

For over a month we worked together on their concept.  They had a pretty clear vision of what they wanted, and had already begun considering various locations, menu ideas, etc., so I was left to evaluate their plans, make suggestions, and learn about the business.  I started to visit area coffee shops and refine my personal goal for what the coffee shop component would be like.  And then for reasons not quite clear, we never advanced beyond that evaluation period.  For nearly a month, we didn’t speak, and by mid-August I had decided to move forward on my own.  To this day, I still don’t know exactly what caused the partnership to fizzle, but we are still friends, and keep in touch almost weekly.

As luck would have it, however, I found a different partner almost immediately.  This new partner had never owned a restaurant before, and by this time I had a much more clear vision in my mind of what I wanted the coffee shop to look like.  In describing it to him, I decided to write out a complete business plan so that it would be clear just what my goals were with the coffee shop.  Choosing to write that business plan was perhaps one of the smarter things I’ve ever done.  It forced me to consider the entire business, from concept, to marketing, to my customer, to costs, etc.  Although I rarely refer to the written plan myself, having written it cemented in my mind my vision for Echo Coffee.

Unfortunately, the second potential partnership later fizzled, which was disappointing and left me on my own to build the shop.  I still like the notion of having a partner, especially when I think about how many hours a day I want to be open and how much time I spend in the shop.  But the reality is, finding a partnership of equals (financial, thought leadership, experience, etc.) is a challenging task.  Still, even though a partnership didn’t manifest, the process of attempting to have a partnership proved very fruitful in the business planning for what would eventually be Echo Coffee.

In creating Echo Coffee, I researched nearly every significant coffee shop in the Phoenix area.  I tasted a ton of coffee.  I watched how each shop’s customer service was handled.  I looked at equipment, product choices, ambiance, music, location, and on and on.  To be a successful indpendent shop, I felt I would not only need to be good, but great.  To provide instant “credibility” in the mind of the customer, my concept called for me to be a coffee roaster, so I bought a coffee roaster in September of 2009 from a shop that didn’t make it in Southern California.  The roaster was almost 10 years old, and was a little smaller than I was initially looking for, but it was so well taken care of, and at a price I couldn’t pass up.

Being a coffee roaster changed the game for me.  As I roasted at home, I began to learn so much more about coffee.  About the various flavors of coffee.  About my preferences in both origin flavor and darkness of roast.  I was able to experiment with coffee at a significantly lower price point, and sample considerably more coffee that I ever would have otherwise.  Roasting coffee also helped me to better understand what I was tasting, when I tasted another shop’s coffee.  Batch after batch, I would roast and taste, roast and taste, until I developed a very strong idea of what I wanted my coffees to taste like.  In the Phoenix area, I know my Titus Blend, for example, offers a unique flavor profile that isn’t found at other shops.  I designed this coffee with one significant goal in mind: the consumer should want another cup.  Titus is sweet and chocolately, with some earthiness.  It isn’t bitter, but instead very smooth.  The acidity is kept low, so it doesn’t cause heartburn (my own stomach can be sensitive to coffees with high acidity).  The only trouble for me personally, is that I no longer drink caffeinated coffee, so I drink very little Titus…but darned is it yummy when I do.

I didn’t stop with the Titus Blend, however, and developed other coffees to please a wider clientele.  In total, I opened Echo Coffee with 4 drip coffees and 3 espresso coffees.

Another thing I did extensive research on was milk.  I compared the taste and ease of use of nearly every milk on the market.  I found an Organic milk that responds so well under steam and also tastes very sweet.  For a coffee shop (which, when you get right down to it is in the business of selling flavored milk), it’s important that the #1 ingredient be the best it can be.

On the food side for Echo Coffee, I initially attempted to design my own menu.  I learned, however, that I am not a baker, nor do I really know anything about running a kitchen.  So by mid-December I had decided I should hire a chef.  Thanks to my business plan, I had basic goals for the kitchen, including a  focus on quality over quantity and a price point that was reasonable.  I set as a target $2 for a pastry and $8 for a sandwich.  Plus I wanted high Organic content.

In March, I was fortunate to make acquaintence with the chef I would eventually hire.  How it was that we found each other seems almost seems almost too good to be true, but my luck does tend to run well, when I have moments of need.

For the location of Echo Coffee, I had originally targetted old town Scottsdale, because that was where the couple from partnership #1 had found a potential location.  In considering that location, I researched and found south Scottsdale had a significant lack of independent shops, as well as a more counter-culture environment than north Scottsdale (where I live).  So even though the first partnership fell through, I kept my search in the area.

The location I found for Echo Coffee was a bit outside my initial search radius, so it took me a while to stumble upon it. But when I did, I was almost immediately sold.  I found a grey shell, that was brand new, with modern architecture, within a mile of where I had targetted. With business plan in hand, I began negotiating with the landlord, while working with an architect, and locating equipment for the ship.  I wanted to get the shop built quickly, but on a budget as well.

Drawing up plans with the architect took longer than I expected, but construction went well. By the time I had my chef in place, construction was nearly complete.  Together we organized suppliers, hired the rest of the staff, and worked our tails off to get Echo Coffee open on a very agressive schedule.

There are still subtle changes I make almost every day at the shop, but for the most part, the shop runs like I had envisioned.

Where will Echo Coffee go from here?  I can’t say for certain.  I would like more stores (particularly one closer to my home).  More stores will have to wait, however, for the first store to pay for them.  The next time around, I should make fewer mistakes, which should save money.  I’d also like to start wholesaling both coffee and pastries.  There is a serious lack of quality wholesale pastry suppliers in the Phoenix area, and with my chef Carylann, I think we could really fill a nice niche in that regard.  There are a few quality wholesale coffee roasteries, but perhaps my unique flavor profile will win me customers that others miss out on.

Free information at a Price

Aug 31, 2009 by Steve Belt in General

I’m in the market for something relatively big and expensive.  Call it a car or a painting or a piece of industrial equipment…it really doesn’t matter.  So, where do I start my search?  Why online of course.

The item I want is manufactured to customer order and as a result most manufacturers offer them in custom colors with custom add-ons.  They have websites that talk about how great theirs is, with pictures of it, and customer testimonials about how awesome their product is.  There are technical specs about how physically large it is, what capacities they offer, and all sorts of bits of information that will help a buyer make a decision.

The odd thing, however, is most manufacturers do not list a price for their products online.  Talk about annoying.  One manufacturer has a class form to fill out to submit an online price request, which I did last night.

This morning I get a simple form email asking me some obvious questions (questions that I believe I answered when I submitted the form), for which the answer was once again answered.  Then, instead of getting pricing, I got a 2nd email, once again with more questions.

At this point, I became more than a little annoyed.  How many times are we going to email each other back and forth, before this company salesperson decides to let me in on the secret of the price.  I began to feel like I was taking part in an infomercial, with the classic, “but wait, there’s more!”.  Finally, I got back a fancy color PDF for the 2 products that would obviously work best for me, and that included….the PRICE!

I’m still clueless as to why getting a price out of this company was tougher than pulling my wisdom teeth.  Oh well…every business can’t always operate under the mantra that their product needs to be great, price accordingly, and then you don’t have to keep the price a secret.  If that’s what “Great” costs, then that’s what it costs.  I still think this company’s product might be great…just annoyed that I jumped through hoops to get it.

If you sell, manufacture, or provide a service, and are offering that product online, do yourself a favor and list the price.  Online consumers expect to the see the price.  If, for some unexplained reason, you cannot list the price, then absolutely, positively give the customer the price the second they ask for it.


Back up your important data

Sep 22, 2011 by Steve Belt in General

Poke confirmation

Aug 15, 2011 by Steve Belt in General

New Gadget Idea

Aug 13, 2011 by Steve Belt in General

Now Pondering

Aug 09, 2011 by Steve Belt in Blogging